Bright Young Newcomer, The
Conventional wisdom has it that offices are nicer, cleaner and more civilized workplaces than factories. Look again. Bright Young Newcomer paints a picture of a generic, undistinguished office populated by feuding women and a laissez-faire male boss content to bask passively in his superior status. Reinforcing countless stereotypes and answering more questions than it asks, this film ignores the real issues in the office: gender and power.
VO: "You know, sometimes I feel sorry for people who have to run an office setup, especially if it employs a number of girls. So many petty things can develop, out of nothing!"
Scene of office with three women working
VO: "That's how the situation began. A little friction between a competent old employee and an intelligent, experience new one."
Two women stand at file cabinet
Betty goes to boss to complain
Boss: "What's the matter Betty?"
Betty: "It's the new girl, Joan Thomas. Just because she's been to college and worked a couple of other places she tries to lord if over everyone. Everything we do is inefficient."
Ken Smith sez: This film shows what happens when a "college-educated" woman joins the secretarial pool. Perky "Joan" has a lot of new ideas, but office veteran "Betty" feels threatened. "Mr. Barnes" (who also plays the physiologist in None For The Road) is left to straighten out the situation. Sexist to be sure, but Take A Letter -- From A To Z is better.
Offices Office workers Workers (office) Workers (women) Workers (clerical) Women (office workers) Workers (white-collar) Supervisors Managers Human resources Efficiency Sexism Gender roles Secretaries Water coolers Adding machines Office machines Supervision Youth vs. experience Experience vs. youth Patronage Behavior
Subject: Those Darn Girls!
(a college graduate clearly taking a job well below her qualifications) suggests better ways of organizing things, she runs into resistance, especially from the office "leader" who put the present systems in place. She complains to the exec, who doesn't do anything hoping the dust-up will blow over---you know how girls are! The question posed is What Would You Do?
Well, I'd fire the ineffectual exec and put the new "girl" in charge.
This film was developed by the "Education and Training Division" of Alcoa...Any guesses how many women held executive positions in that company in the 1950s?
This film did bring to mind an experience I had with a bad filing system when I was a newly hired exec at Sun Microsystems. All the contracts files were alphabetical, according to the name of the first contracting party. Since half the time Sun was the first party, there were as many files under "S" as there were for all the other letters combined! When I suggested a different way to arrange the files, I got about the same reaction as the "girl" in the film...OY!
Subject: Interesting curio of the Bad Old Days for women
Things begin badly when the narrator makes a strange comment about "feeling sorry for people who have to run an office setup, especially if it employs a number of girls." The kind of interoffice rivalry portrayed in the film is common in every workplace, among men and women alike. The reasons for scripting this comment elude me completely, but its inclusion sets a derisive tone.
Betty has been with the company "almost as long as [her boss] George," yet she remains in her
entry-level position, forced to compete head-to-head with over-qualified, new hire Joan. George Barnes does describe Betty vaguely as a "leader," but after having innovated the filing system and served for years as a model of efficiency, she apparently has not been rewarded with an upgraded title nor any real supervisory powers over the women she leads. Adding insult to injury, The narrator tells us that Betty is "a little short on personality," even though we're hard-pressed to see much evidence of it — unless you count the fact that she complains about something, which is apparently very unattractive in a woman.
The female office workers are described universally as "girls." Mr. Barnes, with "eight or nine girls," is a very important man! I wonder if it occurred to anyone in 1958 that the same language would aptly describe a pimp? Regrettably, the women readily participate in their own degradation by referring to themselves and each other as "girls."
When Betty first approaches Mr. Barnes with her complaint about Joan, he carelessly allows her to
believe that he's on her side in the matter by promising to have a talk with Joan. Then he promptly blows off the whole thing. In this leadership vacuum, the situation comes to a head when Betty learns that Joan got together with the other women and changed the whole filing system behind her back.
Seriously, it confounds me that the intended focus of the film is the problem of Betty's resistance to change. Since we're in management class anyway, why not take Mr. Barnes to task for his dismissive and cowardly approach to the issue? Barnes was clearly ready for Change, he hired Change, but then he beat around the bush about it with Betty. What a jerk. I'm only sorry we didn't get to see how he did (or didn't) eventually resolve things once and for all.
Yes, Betty needs to realize that things change and she can't be Queen Bee forever. But the way they treat her, they're lucky she doesn't torch the office!
Lastly, try to imagine yourself watching this (and a slew of similar films) as a female management student in the late '50s or early '60s. Imagine that not-so-subtle, nagging feeling that you've hit your head on the glass ceiling before you've even got your degree!
Subject: Beneath the sexism, good question for managers
The repetitive use of "darn" and "girls" is very, very weird. Once you get over the old-time feel, though, it's a bit interesting.
At root, the manager is the problem: it's his job to determine how his group should operate, and to ensure that interpersonal conflicts (or disputes over methodology) are dealt with. He assures Betty she's in the right (reinforcing her anger over the newcomer's meddling), but doesn't bother to communicate that to the rest of the staff. Is it any surprise things go downhill from there?
Now Joan's got the rest of the "girls" interested in modifying the system, and Betty's flipped out -- Mr. Barnes has a far worse problem to deal with now. I suspect the only reason he's so busy is that he keeps putting off easy tasks until they become difficult... that and he lets Betty defend her innovative alphabetical filing system despite sensible alternative suggestions.
What I want to know is what the film would recommend to its audience, or what actual managers would respond as their solution to the situation -- both then and now!
Subject: I'll Be Honest....
Subject: MY question is - why is Barnes so lazy and incompetent?
If this in any indication of the reality of the workplace in the 50s, it's no wonder the women's movement happened!
I give it 5 stars for the historical value.
Subject: Women's Problems at the Dysfunctional Office
Subject: well done but dated
"oy! i can't believe so-and-so wants to switch things that are working fine" kind of border wars we all experience at work at one time or another.
so what have we learned?
1) I guess we've learned that it's good to
"learn new ideas" (go php! go ant! go xml/xsl!)
(er, sorry, quiet webmaster, quiet)
2) thank goodness "girls" are out and 2000s are in!
Subject: Why the Woman's Movement Happened
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Subject: I'm on Betty's side
Penalized one star, only because it should have been longer!
Subject: Saucer of milk to table three!
Subject: Absolutely beautiful!
Subject: RAWR! Office Cat Fights!